Wesley Chapel resident Parth Madabhushi is carrying on a family tradition.
His mother, Sabrina Madabhushi, is a teacher of Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance that originated in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu in southern India.
Sabrina’s mother, Geetha Raaj, is a guru who has taught thousands of students the traditional art form as she has traveled the state of Florida sharing her knowledge of the dance since 1990, and prior to that in India.
Of the thousands of students she’s taught, only some rise to the level of training where they are ready to ascend the stage and make their performance debut, sharing their dance with an audience at a demanding individual recital called an “arangetram.”
For Guru Geetha Raaj, her 150th student to perform an arangetram just might be the most special. In addition to being her grandson, Parth is the first boy among her students to achieve this level of training.
“It’s not like children learning ballet,” explains Sabrina, “where you learn a little bit of ballet and do a recital. An arangetram is the first time you show yourself on stage, after all these years of learning Bharatanatyam.”
It typically takes about 10 years, she adds.
“I started learning the basics when I was about 4 or 5,” says Parth, who is now 14. “I was 11 or 12 when I knew I’m not just a kid learning anymore. Now I have to prepare to perform. I turned on a switch I didn’t have before.”
Parth says it was last November when his guru decided he was ready to begin preparing for his arangetram, and that’s when the more rigorous, everyday work began.
Parth’s arangetram was held on September 16 at the India Cultural Center in Tampa. More than 600 people attended, including Florida Senator Dana Young and Tampa City Council member Luis Viera.
An orchestra from India played live music while Parth danced for more than two hours, with just short breaks in between long, individual dances, showing the mastery of Bharatanatyam he has accomplished so far.
There is still much more for Parth to learn, though, says Sabrina.
“He will continue learning after this stage,” she says. “You can get more into the deeper intricacies of the dance. There’s so much mythology, and so many characters you could portray.”
For his arangetram, Parth portrayed masculine characters, something that is not seen as often in the dance form because there are not that many boys who study or perform it.
Sabrina explains that Bharatanatyam is for everyone, but more girls choose to study it than boys, comparing it again to ballet.
“For every 25 girls in a class, you might get one boy,” she says, “and he might drop out after two years.”
The ‘Dance’ Of Karate, Too
Besides honoring his family tradition to learn Bharatanatyam, Parth participates in another family activity — karate.
“We are a family of black belts,” says Parth’s dad, Prahlad, who is taking both Parth and his sister, 11-year-old Nitya, to the World Karate Championships in Dublin, Ireland, hosted by the World Karate Commission.
Parth qualified on a national level to compete at the world level in several divisions, including point sparring, continuous sparring, creative weapons, creative forms and team forms.
His mom says karate has given Parth the physicality and the stamina to be able to perform Bharatanatyam in a masculine way.
“My two main passions are karate and Bharatanatyam,” says Parth. “They are completely different forms, but I’ve seen how one helps me do the other. By doing one, I get moves (more easily) in the other. They have both helped each other to help me.”
One connection is that he uses a sword in the creative weapons division of karate, and included a sword in his arangetram.
With his arangetram behind him, Parth is focused on preparing for the World Karate Championships, which will be held after we go to press with this issue, ending on Nov. 2.
Then, Parth will be back to balancing his two passions.
“I did feel my arangetram was a huge accomplishment,” says Parth, “but now I don’t want to stop dancing. I’m one of the few people in the world who have three generations of the family who are able to learn the art form and present it at the same time.”